Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’m going to try to avoid as many spoilers as I possibly can, but when it comes to a show this extensive and interconnected with the MCU, that will be difficult. If you are truly worried about spoilers, avoid this post until you’ve completed the series. Or at least watched enough of it that you won’t mind spoilers. You’ve been warned!

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this show before, but I’m rewatching it right now, so it’s as good a time as any. I’m an easy sell when it comes to superhero shows, but I definitely feel like this is one of the better ones. Maybe that’s just because Joss Whedon had such a heavy hand in the show and I love most things Whedon. Frankly, this may be the most Whedonesque show that ever existed. But it’s not just Whedon; the cast is phenomenal, the writing is solid and both their choreography and set design are great. Before I gush too much, let me tell you about the show.

I’m going to try to be concise, but, in the world of Marvel Comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for a long time. Not to mention how the television show ties into the MCU in general, this may be a long post. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and was formed to address superpowered threats without having to rely on superheroes all the time. The organization itself first appeared in Strange Tales #135 in 1965, a creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but we’re talking about the television show here. When the series starts, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Agent Phil Coulson (played by Gregg Clark of The West Wing and basically so many MCU movies that I’m not going to list them all here). Agent Coulson makes his first appearance in the movie Iron Man and then is seen in a few of the other MCU movies, until he dies in The Avengers, killed by Loki. Yep, you heard me right; he dies. So him actually being the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is kind of weird, which they play into quite a bit early in the series. He makes cryptic references to “Tahiti” being a “magical place” and we don’t find out until later what he means by Tahiti. Then, there are his agents.

The team initially consists of consummate bad ass, Agent Melinda Mae (played by Ming-Na Wen of ER and The Mandelorian), James Bond-like Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton of , well, not much, really. He’s been a voice actor for Milo Murphy’s Law and then a number of bit parts), the Nerd Herd duo of Leo Fitz (played by Iain De Caestecker of Coronation Street and Overlord) and Jemma Simmons (played by Elizabeth Henstridge of Wolves at the Door and Suspicion), mercenary Lance Hunter (played by Nick Blood of Trollied and Babylon), his ex-wife Bobbi Morse (played by Adrianne Palicki of John Wick and The Orville) and, last but not least, muscley-but-complex guy Alphonso “Mac” Mackenzie (played by Henry Simmons of NYPD Blue and Shark).

Another agent, that is not an agent at the beginning, is Skye (played by Chloe Bennet of Valley Girl and Nashville). The characters of the cast are strong enough that’s it’s hard to call anyone a star, but, if I were pressed to pick one, Skye and Mae would be a tie behind Coulson. Mainly because she is so integral to so many plots of so many seasons. When the series starts, she’s an anarchist hacker, out to fight the system. Then, under Coulson’s tutelage, she becomes a dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Spoiler Alert! She ultimately is found to be an Inhuman and develops powers. Her superhero name becomes Quake, but she switches names more than a pro golfer switches clubs. It’s unfortunate that her character is tied to so many plot lines, because she is, in my opinion, one of the weakest of the bunch.

I’m not going to write an exhaustive list of cast members; they were surprisingly numerous for a seven season run. But I do want to spend some time on the part-time, side actors that show up from time to time. I don’t know what their budget was, but they must have been spending Marvel dollars, cause, damn, did they have some star power. Kyle MacLachlan (of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) is in 2 seasons of the series, and, in my mind, you don’t get much bigger than that. Ruth Negga (of Misfits and Preacher) has a sizable role early in the show. Samuel L. Jackson (of Pulp Fiction and just about every movie in the MCU) shows up once or twice as Nick Fury, just to cement the show’s connection to the movies. Patton Oswald was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in a number of episodes. Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, Stan Lee (because, of course), even George Stephanopoulos appears as himself in an episode. And this is with leaving a few names out, because I don’t know how long this would be if I included anyone with name recognition.

There were some big names behind the camera as well. Roxan Dawson (who played B’Ellana Torres on Star Trek: Voyager) directed a few episodes, as did Jonathan Frakes, for the full Star Trek treatment. Lou Diamond Phillips directed an episode. Even cast members Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge got their turn at directing. While the Whedons, along with Maurissa Tancharoen (of Whedon vehicles Doll House and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), did most of the heavy lifting writing wise, they definitely had help. Drew Z. Greenberg wrote a number of episodes for the show, but he’s also written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, Arrow and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Jeffery Bell has written episodes for The X Files, Angel and Alias. Comic book legend Jeph Loeb is listed as an executive producer, as is Joe Quesada. The people who put this show together have comics and sci-fi in their blood.

If one thing disappointed me about Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was that only one spin-off came out of it, and that was a short-run internet series based on Yo-Yo, called Slingshot. What makes it tragic is that there were so many great characters that could have carried a series. The first one to come to mind was Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider is not an easy character to get right and I thought that both the writers and Gabriel Luna did a great job. And, that there was so much more that could have been done with him. Another is the duo of Bobbie Morse and Lance Hunter. From what I understand, there was a spin-off (Marvel’s Most Wanted) in the works, I think a pilot was actually filmed, but the network (ABC) decided to pass on it. I haven’t actually seen this pilot and, believe me, I’ve looked. Even beyond these obvious ones, there were so many possibilities. A show following Coulson and Agent Mae, or Fitz and Simmons, even Quake probably could have carried a show. I think someone had figured that Inhumans would be the show to take over the Marvel banner, but no one could have guessed quite how bad it would be.

While I will always miss the show, I feel it had a good run. Seven seasons wasn’t bad and they left on a good note. Always leave them wanting more, right? What I find odd more than anything is how completely Marvel content seems to have left the small screen. There’s nothing outside of Disney+ and even some of those shows are one offs (I certainly don’t see a season 2 for WandaVision). And while I have enjoyed the Disney content, and am looking forward to more, I feel like they’re only focusing on Avengers-level characters and ignoring a wealth of other stories. I think that Agent Carter ended too soon, I was enjoying The Gifted before that was canceled and I LOVED the beautiful mess that was Legion. On the other hand, I am excited for the upcoming Ms. Marvel. I guess I shouldn’t complain. The state of comic book based television shows even just 10 years ago was pretty dismal. Now I’ve got my choice of more shows than I could have imagined. I still contend that out of all those shows, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the crown jewels of the MCU.

Stumptown

This is not what I thought I’d be writing about. So much of what I write, or draw or paint for that matter, is driven by what has “sparked my joy” in the moment. With my last post about the TV show, Reaper, I was all excited to write about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with just having watched the season finale of Stumptown, a show I’ve been enjoying way more than I expected, I’ve decided that it will be my topic for today. Stumptown, by the way, is a crime drama on ABC based on a comic book created by Oregon writer, Greg Rucka. Obviously, that is where my interest began.

Given my interest in comic books, I’ve been aware of Rucka for some time. He’s written for several titles, such as Batman and The Punisher, in addition to putting out a few mystery novels. A number of years ago, I saw him talk at the Jack London Lounge. It’s a jazz club now, but back then it was an eclectic space, hosting everything from bands to lectures to monthly comic book events. I was at one of these events on a night Rucka was there talking about his (at that time) new title, Lazarus. It’s a great comic, but that’s not the point. He was so excited to talk about this title, he displayed such passion about his work, I’ve been a fan ever since. He started writing Stumptown in 2009, the title being a reference to a nickname of Portland, OR, where the story is set. The homage to this fine city certainly boosted my estimation of the comic. You might think my appreciation for Stumptown, the comic, would color my opinion of the TV show in a favorable light, but, on the contrary, it made me more critical of it.

Which is why I am surprised at how much I like it. Cobie Smulders is perfect as the main character, Dex Parios, a Marine back from Afghanistan, turned private investigator. I remember enjoying her range as she shifted from comedy (How I Met Your Mother) to action (The Avengers), but she works surprisingly well as the abrasive, hard drinking Dex. She lives with her younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus, the Spare Room being his only other acting credit), who has Downs Syndrome and works at the bar, The Bad Alibi. This bar is owned by Dex’s best friend, Grey McConnell (Jake Johnson of New Girl and Get Him to the Greek), an ex-con trying to go straight. Occasionally assisting Dex in her investigations is Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy of Barbershop and Almost Human) of the Portland PD and his boss, Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim of The Magicians and Person of Interest). Then there’s Tookie (Adrian Martinez of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Focus), Portland food truck owner whose purpose of the show is something of a mystery to me, but he is amusing as the passionate chef.

The show is fun, which, now that I’m writing a (near) weekly blog about television shows, I’m realizing is a major factor in whether I like a show or not. I find the mysteries that Dex is tasked with to be well written, the winding path to her solving them to be exciting joyrides. The cast has great chemistry with each other and there is a fair amount of character development, even in just the first season. I like the show’s use of music and the running gag of Dex’s car stereo playing random songs at random times, that can’t be turned off, is effective and, thankfully, not overused. There’s a nice combination of mystery of the week and longer story arcs. As comic book turned TV show, it’s not the usual fare. I’m not saying that this is the best TV show I’ve ever seen, but I do like it, more than I thought I would. I’m really hoping for a season 2, but, as of this writing, I’ve heard no news about whether it’s been renewed or not.

My biggest complaint is that, as Portland-centric as the comic was, and the show claims to be, it’s clearly not filmed in Portland, and it shows. It’s filmed in Los Angeles, which is about as far from Portland as you can get, setting-wise. I have a real connection to place and, even though I wasn’t born in Portland, I immediately fell in love with it. There is no easier way for me to be interested in a show than to set it in Portland. Shows like Leverage, Grimm and the Librarians used Portland like a cast member and I would tune in just to see shots of my adopted hometown. One episode of Grimm was filmed at a house across the street from where I was living and it was a blast to watch. Stumptown will have the occasional shot where a Portland landmark can be seen, but for a show that’s named after the freakin’ city, I want more. Heck, even when Leverage was supposed to be set in Boston, they showed more of Portland than Stumptown does.

But, really, that’s my only complaint about the show. I’m sad to see it end, but I have high hopes that it will come back for another season. Not that I’ll be surprised, particularly after writing about the all-too-short run of Reaper last week. Whiskey Cavalier, Pushing Up Daisies and, while we’re on the subject, we have to mention Firefly, which has become the patron saint for shows that ended too soon. So be it. It’s not like there’s any shortage of programming, especially when everyone and their uncle is coming out with a new streaming service every other week. Still, when it comes to Stumptown, I’ve got my fingers crossed for another helping of Dex and friends.